Rail Freight Still Lags Behind 2019 Levels

U.S. rail freight for the week ending July 24 continued to show growth, but an industry analyst noted that 2021 traffic continues to lag behind what railroad handled during the same period of 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Association of American Railroads said that last week U.S. rail traffic was 503,219 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 4.6 percent over the same week in 2020.

But a report from Susquehanna Financial Group Analyst Bascome Majors said the 2021 figures of last week are 6 percent lower than the same week in 2019.

He said the four-week trend was up 7 percent vs. 2020 but down 3 percent when compared with 2019.

Carloads last week were 230,095, an increase of 7.1 percent compared with 2020 while intermodal volume was 273,124 containers and trailers, up 2.6 percent.

Yet those same traffic categories when compared with 2019 showed intermodal was flat and the four-week trend for intermodal was up 3 percent vs. 2019.

Seven of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase last week compared with the same week in 2020, AAR said.

They included coal, up 8,411 carloads, to 65,945; metallic ores and metals, up 7,662 carloads, to 23,124; and nonmetallic minerals, up 2,162 carloads, to 33,115.

Posting declines were motor vehicles and parts, down 4,390 carloads, to 10,765; farm products excluding grain, and food, down 1,722 carloads, to 14,679; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 309 carloads, to 10,530.

For the first 29 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 6,678,220 carloads, rising 9.2 percent from the prior-year period; and 8,124,671 intermodal units, increasing 15.8 percent.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the period was 14,802,891 carloads and intermodal units, a 12.7 percent gain compared with 2020.

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